Over the winter, Cleveland handed Encarnacion the largest free-agent contract in franchise history, guaranteeing him $60 million over three seasons. In his Indians debut, Encarnacion was in his new home -- the cleanup spot in the lineup. In the eighth inning, he made the kind of impact Cleveland envisioned when it stepped outside its monetary comfort zone to reel him in.
With one out, Encarnacion lifted a 1-2 curveball from righty Matt Bush to deep left. The pitch was supposed to dive down into the dirt, but it instead found the thick of Encarnacion's barrel. Per Statcast™, the baseball rocketed off the bat with an exit velocity of 107 mph and soared a projected 422 feet.
Most important, Encarnacion's first shot for the Indians pulled the game into a 5-5 tie.
"That's a nice feeling," Francona said. "You can tell, he had one thing in mind right there, and he did it. He's a good hitter. Hopefully, there's a lot more to come."
Following Encarnacion's blast, the Indians struck for three more runs in the ninth, making Corey Kluber's rough start (five runs in six innings) more of a footnote than anything else. Encarnacion ended the night 2-for-5 with two runs scored, but his blast triggered the final offensive push.
"I was just trying to stay in the middle so I could recognize the breaking pitch," Encarnacion said, "because he wasn't throwing that many."
Encarnacion's approach paid off.
"I wanted to bury it -- bounce it," Bush said. "I threw it too much over the middle of the plate."
Encarnacion has crushed plenty of mistake pitches like that one over the years.
Over the past five seasons, Encarnacion launched 193 home runs (the most among right-handed hitters) and collected 550 RBIs (second to only Miguel Cabrera in that span). He is the lone Major Leaguer with at least 30 homers in each of the past five campaigns. Last year he also tied for the American League lead with a career-high 127 RBIs.
Last summer, Cleveland's front office showed it was serious about capitalizing on its contention window by trading for relief ace Andrew Miller, sending four prospects to the Yankees. That aggressive approach continued over the winter, when Encarnacion's initial asking price did not hold up under the conditions of the marketplace.
When the cost dropped into a realistic range, the Indians got their man.
"I think we were all a little bit surprised when he kind of fell into our laps," Miller said. "They made it sound like we weren't going to play in that stratosphere. Fortunately, I think the combination of our playoff run and the fact that there was a glut of first basemen, he fell into our laps.
"We're excited to have him. Certainly tonight, exactly shows why."